ANTI-ASIAN RACISM UNDONE
Critical Race Studies Now: Teaching Anti-Asian Racism With and Without Institutions
Livestreamed on May 29th, 2021
We're living and inhabiting Indigenous lands and shores, the planet's largest gathering of freshwater. For thousands of years, it has been the traditional land of the Huron Wendat, the Haudenosaunee and the Métis, and most recently, the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation. Today, the meeting place on Tkaronto is home to many Indigenous people from across Turtle Island. And we are grateful to have the opportunity to work in and enter into respectful and caring relations and community on this territory. I'd like to begin also by thanking not only our panelists today, but everyone else who's spoken for the entire day, I invite you to watch the video, the videos that have been posted on our website, at Scholar Strike Canada.ca. And also to remind folks that we have another full day's events tomorrow on the website as well. The other thing I'd like to ask folks to do is that, this, this event is being live streamed on Facebook, and on YouTube. And so if you have any questions, comments, please do so place them in the chat function. And our tech folks and also our, some audience members will key me into those and I'll make sure to incorporate them into the dialogue, the vibe that I'm trying to invoke, right we're trying to invoke as a conversation as a teacher and we're quite limited by our means virtually, but we will try to echo right the energy that has been present today with multiple dialogues and panels.
Before I begin, I'd like to introduce the panelists for today and they will be speaking in this order.
Takashi Fujitani is the Dr. David Chiu Professor and Director of Asia Pacific Studies at the University of Toronto. Much of his past and current research has centred on the intersections of nationalism, colonialism, war, memory, racism, ethnicity, and gender, as well as the disciplinary and area studies boundaries that have figured our ways of studying these issues. He is the author of Splendid Monarchy and Race for Empire: Koreans as Japanese and Japanese as Koreans in WWII.
Casey Mecija is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Communication Studies, and holds a PhD from Jewish Studies at York University and holds a PhD from University of Toronto. Her current research theorizes sounds made beyond Filipinx diaspora to make an argument about a “queer sound” that permeates diasporic sensibilities..Her work has been published in queer in Asian America and diasporic intimacies queer Filipinos and Canadian imaginaries.
Allan Punzalan Isaac is Associate Professor of American Studies and English at Rutgers University, New Brunswick. He is the author of American Tropics: Articulating Filipino America and a book we're very excited to read soon, Filipino Time: Affective Worlds and Contracted Labor.
Lucy Burns is an Associate Professor at UCLA's Asian American Studies Department. She's the author of Puro Arte: On the Filipino Performing Body published by NYU press. She's also a dramaturg, whose recent collaborations include David Rousseve’s Stardust, and R. Zamora Linmark’s But, Beautiful, and TeAda Productions’ Global Taxi Drivers’ Project.
Christine Kim is Associate Professor and editor of the journal Canadian Literature. Her teaching and research focus on Asian North American literature and theory, Canadian literature, diaspora studies, and cultural studies. She is the author of The Minor Intimacies of Race and co-editor of Cultural Grammars of Nation, Diaspora and Indigeneity.
So before we begin, I will start by talking about, how do we enter this conversation? And what are the grounds with which this event was thought about, in the context of the organizers in the collective? I wanted to convene this particular roundtable as a means to activate a grounded, personal and meaningful way for folks to encounter possible models for imagining what social engagement, political commitment and their collective imagining around what undoing anti-Asian racism could look like, or feel, or mean, particularly for those of us working with or engaging with educational institutions or settings. The folks who have agreed to speak today, from a very personal level, have been truly inspirational to me, they've been mentors and interlocutors and people that I've seen as allies and discussions right around these issues. And I thought, an informal conversation where we just share where we're coming from might be a good thing.
You know, one of the things that frustrates me in particular around Asian Canadian Studies, both as a field and politics, if you were to think about its present moment within institutions, isn't it always seems to be defanged and depoliticized across multiple fronts, from people that lead these spaces on campuses, to gestures around empty and quite harmful ideals and multiculturalism and identity politics, to failure to naming racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and other forms of oppression, to thinking about Asian Canadian identities experiences comparatively, to mobilizing it in ways that are accountable to the demands of students or activists and community members, to supporting the demands of the community, as you asked for in dream certain things, to being accountable to the forms and dreams that our demands take, especially when institutions limit their scope by offering resources or denying them to the communities and stories and experiences that the field itself privileges or deprioritizes.
Today I want to begin our conversation by invoking the previous conversations before that gave me faith and hope what Asian Canadian thinking and being alongside with others can look like. I want to name Rajean Hoilett, Beverly Bain, Shellie Zhang, Min Sook Lee, Richard Fung, Monika Gagnon, Lu Xu, Mei Chiu, Maribeth Tabernera, Kirstin Emiko McAllister, Angie Wong, Jayal Chung, Deena Ladd, and Winnie Ng. What we witnessed today in their conversations, and for those who have not been a part of it, please look at them, listen to them, I invoke their names because I engage with them, and actually want to challenge colleagues and coteachers in institutions in Canada, feminist and otherwise. You know, recently I just pulled out of an advisory board of a national council to think about anti-Asian-Canadian racism. And, in that advisory board there are folks or feminist faculty members, folks secure in their position. I invoke the names and the creativity, especially of the youth that spoke today, because they are often so creative, and imaginative, but do not have access to the spaces of power that we do. Right? Especially if we have security of a job that many folks do not have.
So I invite you, colleagues, friends, to be accountable to their dreams, experiences, creativity, joys and struggles, because we can, and we can do it. Righ?. And I myself, having been deeply moved to this kind of this reciprocal accountability that I've received from the folks in this room, this virtual room. And on that note, although it has only come to the fore now in anti-Asian, so this notion of anti-Asian racism seems to like all of a sudden, come to the fore in the context of COVID. You know, it's actually existed for far longer. So I'd like to invite the panel to speak about, if you can speak more about how anti-Asian racism has informed how you engage with institutions, or sought to transform them from your own personal experiences? Can you share some stories around how you came to learn about, teach or center, the experience of Asian and other marginalized communities and their work within or beyond institutional settings? And let's begin with Tak.
Okay, thank you very much, Robert, for your message, and the hope that you always bring to everything I have to say. And I want to acknowledge that I feel very privileged and grateful to live and work on the traditional territory of many Indigenous nations, including the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishnaabe, the Haudenosaunee, the Huron Wendat peoples, and that this area is still home to many diverse Indigenous, Inuit and Métis people today. I'd also like to thank the organizers of this event for bringing us all together and for inviting me to participate. And I couldn't help but also want to say that as a faculty member of the University of Toronto, I'd like to affirm my commitment to supporting the CAUT censure of our university and the law school for their mishandling of the recent attempt to hire professor Azarova. And I also understand why the organizers of this event decided that in the spirit of censure, they would like to decline my offer, as director of the two program in Asia Pacific studies to co-sponsor this event. In fact, I'm, I'm kind of grateful for that because I would like to then write in my annual report, that our sponsorship was turned down in the spirit of the censure. So I'm here as an individual faculty member who is a supporter of this event and the censure.
So I've learned a lot so much from the previous panels, and in fact, frankly, not sure how much I can contribute. But I thought I'd take my time to talk about my own involvement in anti-racist activism and research within the context of the split, or actually, the non-relation between Asian Studies and Asian American studies, as well as the mid early to mid-1990s assault on affirmative action that took place in California where I spent most of my career. So as I say, I spent almost my entire academic career in California, first at UC Santa Cruz, starting in 1988. It's been a long time. Then UC San Diego, before leaving San Diego and taking up a position in Japan where I almost stayed, I had an opportunity to do that. But then coming to Toronto in 2011, with again, great hopes of learning from a new environment, which I have. So we're asked to talk about our own background. To some extent, I kind of wanted to historicize myself, I guess, in a way, and talk about my location within the discursive spaces of Asian and Asian American Studies.
But growing up in Berkeley, California, I had been sensitive by racism ever since I can remember, and I recently gave some thought to thinking about how there was a great contradiction between the apparent universalism and humanism of the campus on a hill in Berkeley, and then the deeply divided racialized city that I actually grew up in. But anyway, my first job was in UC Santa Cruz. And there I joined some other Asian American colleagues, mostly staff, really, and a few faculty, in a number of struggles against anti-Asian racism, and for more Asian American Studies in the curriculum. But I have to say that I couldn't incorporate the study of race and racism in the United States, into my own research until a few years after I had begun teaching. And this is because of the formation of disciplines and the formation of area studies in particular. I was trained to be a historian of Japan, and had been a critic of Japanese nationalism, imperialism, colonialism, racism, sexism, and so forth. But the historical non-relation between areas such an Ethnic Studies have created a kind of invisible barrier to scholars like me, who have been educated in Asian Studies, but who wish to do more research and teaching on racism in the United States. For me, this changed a lot in the early to mid-1990s. With the rising tide of racism in California, especially was the reactionary attack on affirmative action that was actually led by the University of California and its regents. And I was glad to see that Robert also mentioned this a little bit in the in the first segment of the day,
I felt extreme discomfort and even some ridiculousness, as I wrote and critiqued Japanese racism, nationalism, or forgetfulness about Japanese atrocities, and colonial colonialism, an ocean away, even though I was witnessing American racism, nationalism just outside my window, and in my own Department of History at UC San Diego. I became much more involved in anti-racist activism as a faculty member of UC San Diego, and I served on many affirmative action and diversity committees within UCSD and the University of California system, and became part of an anti-racist coalition of faculty at UCSD. I also then began to incorporate the critique of US racism and imperialism into my own research and writing. My amazing colleagues at UC San Diego particularly in Ethnic Studies, Literature, and History, helped me to find a way to go against the conventions of the discipline of History, as water as well as the bordering practices of the university, that cordoned off Asian studies from Asian American Studies. But I also need to add that we did not at that time wish to privilege Asians over any other racialized group. In fact, we were more driven at that time by the upsurge in racism against black, brown and undocumented. And I will always be grateful for that experience.
As many people have pointed out, by now, Ethnic Studies emerged out of the Third World Liberation Front in the Third World Studies movement in the late 1960s and early 70s, in the San Francisco Bay Area, so in exactly the place that I grew up, and it also had a strong international and global perspective. But in the process of the institutionalization of Ethnic Studies in higher education, that moment of transnationalism receded to the background while we witnessed the increasing nationalization or Americanization of the Ethnic Studies formation. We're seeing again a resurgence of the transnational in Ethnic Studies, which is a great thing. So, when we're considering the emergent formation of Asian Canadian Studies today, I think it's really important not to let the name “Canadian” establish the nation's borders as the boundaries of the possible. As for Asia Studies in the academy, it had precursors in state and military intelligence communities during World War Two, but became firmly entrenched in the Cold War years in order to contain communism. In the process of the institutionalization of Asian Studies in Asian American Studies, this had completely different characteristics, and were in many ways at odds with each other. Asian Studies was well funded by the state and multinational corporate interests, while its privileged faculties disavowed any relation to Asian American communities. In fact, many of the key persons in Asian Studies treated Asian Americans with racist disdain, even exploiting them as language instructors, while acting as if they had made themselves into great scholars. In contrast, Asian American Studies was poorly funded, and had only a precarious existence in the university. It also had a completely different relationship to Asian American communities since its faculty and students can join activism in Asian American communities with work within the university. Asian Studies was primarily about white people, studying people of color, except for a smattering of Asians who were often treated more like native informants and scholars; while Asian American Studies faculty were primarily Asian American and emerged organically out of their communities. A different way of saying this is that Asian Studies and Asian American Studies emerged as differentially racialized knowledge formations. Globalization and demographic changes have produced more Asian scholars in Asian Studies, and have impacted Canada and some institutions on the west coast of the US most clearly. But in other major centers of North American area studies, not as much has changed as one might think and hope.
So I want to end by saying something about Eurocentrism in relationship to Asian Studies and Asian American Studies. So I've been critiquing the politics around the split between Asian Studies and Asian American Studies. But we need to understand it's not enough to create bridges across Asian and Asian American Studies, even though this may be an important step. We also need to intervene at the heart of the university and critique Eurocentrism if we hope not only to decolonize knowledge production, but to engage in anti-racist work that has brought relevance across all people of color, and Indigenous peoples. Eurocentrism is not only about making the physical location of Europe the center of the world, it is about whiteness, and white supremacy. When we critique Eurocentrism, we're not saying there are too many studies of black Germans, or Africans, and Muslims in France, or Asians in Britain or the Netherlands and so on. If we're going to work against racism and decolonize the university, we need to ally with other people of color and Indigenous peoples to critique Eurocentrism with an understanding that this formation anchors the university's racism. Eurocentrism today is part of what I have tried to theorize as polite racism, or what Said once called casual racism. It is a racism that looks at you with a friendly face and denies itself as racist. It promises inclusion under the banner of universalism, and humanism, often while secret deals are made amongst white boys. But it privileges whiteness without asking for sacrifice from those people. It does so without calling it the racism that it is. And it supplies the racist fuel, this casual, polite racism, that fuels the type of vulgar racism that too often ends in the sheer violence that we are witnessing too often. So I'll end here. Thank you.
Thank you Tak. So much to think about, difference is really racialized. Especially and I think just even doing that map, and I'm really thankful and it's helpful for us to think about. I believe our next is Casey.
So thank you Takashi for such a rich historical overview of Asian Studies and Asian American Studies and for importantly highlighting the urgency of problematizing Eurocentrism. So, I'm Casey, I'm also located in the area known as Tkaronto, which has been caretaken by the Anishnawbek nation, the Haudenosaunee Confederacy and the Huron Wendat. It is now home to many First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities. I'd like to thank the organizing committee of this event for bringing us together, and thank you to my fellow panelists. Your work has been deeply inspiring, and I feel very lucky to be in conversation with you today.
So Robert asked us to offer stories as a way of animating today's discussion and I have a couple to share with you. So my subjectivity has been formed by intimate proximities to first and second generation Filipinx community, to my early encounters with black music and cultural production through family gatherings. And via the playlists of my older and much cooler Filipinx aunties and kuyas, from Toronto and Southern California. The neighborhoods that my family occupied, for example, Carson City, California, is full of Filipinx, black and Latinx people. Similarly, my experience of spending time in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, as a child, was full of encounters with different diasporic racialized people living and exchanging food, music stories, and everyday socialities. Those physical and emotional geographies were in stark contrast to the city in which I lived and spent my time growing up.
I was born in a primarily white suburb in southern Ontario called Brantford. In this small city, I was explicitly aware of my difference, especially as a racialized queer teenager, a time in my life when high school uniforms attempted to flatten style and emphasize sameness, and where the celebratory rhetoric of Canadian multiculturalism was often mobilized by my friendly-faced white teachers to evade the harshness of racism and homophobia that landed on my body and the bodies of my family members in mundane and sometimes spectacular ways.
So to combat the isolation, and in retrospect, racial melancholia that I experienced as a young person, I decided to establish a committee, of which I was self-proclaimed, and self-nominated as president, called Race Relations. Working alongside a handful of Korean, Iranian, Pakistani and Chinese students, we organized a conference affectionately called Motivation for the Nation. And while my younger self often succumbed to the trappings of the promise of the nation, and accommodationist approaches to anti-Asian and anti-racist activism, like this conference, that sought to bring social change through a deeply racist institutional structure. The kernel of that collaborative experience, coupled with the neighborhoods that inform my sensorial and psychic memory, were so formative to how I imagine undoing anti-Asian racism now, as an adult mired in the university system. As Robert alluded to, the way I imagined the work of anti-Asian racism is the work of thinking alongside others. It is deeply relational and is committed to collaborating and thinking across different spaces of diaspora to bring Asian Canadian Studies, Filipinx Diaspora Studies, Black Studies and Critical Race Studies more broadly into conversation. I've always believed that anti-Asian racism activism is a commitment to coalitional work that takes many recognizable forms like Motivation for the Nation. But I also know that some effective modes of resistance slip from the logics of legibility, and emerged at the level of the effective and the intimate.
So my entry into engaging with anti-Asian racism has two major flashpoints that occurred outside of the institution. One emerges from my childhood, and the other from my encounters as a touring musician. My parents never taught me Tagalog as a child. I can recall my feelings of discomfort when met with the sounds and intonations of a language I was so familiar with, but did not understand. I now consider my parents’ hesitation towards teaching me Tagalog as a strategy of protecting me from racism. My childhood home was filled with sounds that gestured to an elsewhere that my parents in many ways tried to protect me from. The sonic substance of this experience can be threaded through to my work as the lead singer of an orchestral pop band called Oh, Bijou! In my time as a musician, my Filipinx body was often described by the media and music critics as producing a “multicultural” sound. My Asianness was a discernible sonic signifier. My Filipinx presence was rendered by audience members in benevolent ways. For example, one audience member commented on how our music produced a “rather impressive Asian sound”. So these moments were sticky, and I carry them with me into my institutional work.
Now, how do I undo the sadness and dispirited ness caused by anti-Asian racism, but undoubtedly pools and myself my racialized colleagues and students? My classrooms are spaces that privilege storytelling, like this panel, and all its sensorial forms. My students are encouraged to use aesthetic expression as a way of connecting themselves and each other to the material they are encountering. I want my students to feel like their lives are epistemological resources, regardless of institutional affiliation and recognition. They write poems, they record videos, they make music and art. And in the last class I taught on diaspora, they shared family recipes, and if we were together, we would have eaten those recipes together. In one of my lectures, I bring music into my class and sometimes I sing for my students. Recently, I sang a song for them that is about my parents’ trans-Pacific migration, and my queer diasporic experience. Some students cried, some located themselves in my vulnerability, and others appeared absolutely ambivalent. But my offering of the affective and intimate was a hopeful gesture, made with the recognition that these other ways of learning hold political possibilities and potential. I hope that in this song, they could feel the layers of my history that I recalled for you earlier. My students encounter difference through affect of attachment, which I hope opens them up to a sense of understanding of politics of social justice.
Thank you, Casey, thank you for the pedagogic intervention as well, it's very useful for us to think about. Allen?
Allan Punzalan Issac:
Thank you so much, Robert. And thank you to the panelists for sharing the space with all of us and sharing your thoughts. And I want to just follow along with the stories about three stages, uneven stages of my life, the 80s 90s and the 2000s. And so just to start off, I was born in Manila, but grew up in Jersey City, New Jersey, I teach at Rutgers New Brunswick, and like Casey in New Jersey City, in the way she described, where she was growing up with aunts and uncles, it was indeed a plurality, which is to say that these are like physical proximities as well as what you say, affective and cultural geographies and affinities.
So in one sense, either folks were either immigrants, black, or white ethnics. But specifically white ethnics, they didn't see themselves as white, but they saw themselves as Jewish, Italian or Irish, for example. And then among African Americans, of course, there was distinctions that I learned coming to America that there were, of course, African Americans, and then Caribbean Blacks. And then of course, there were the Indians who are Indian Indians, but then there are also Guyanese Indians, and Indians from the Caribbean. So that was Jersey City for me. That's what what, what what I grew up in as a plurality, or majority minority space. And that was interesting is because I didn't have to identify necessarily as Asian. So I wanted to put that first that, in fact, the affinity and the physical proximity was with Puerto Ricans.
And so precisely because of the cultural affinities and the culture commonalities - even names, even like the way by which you know, how much they hated each other in one neighborhood, but yet they dated each other nonetheless - these are all ways by which I knew there was an affinity, but I didn't realize it was historical affinity, that is to say, US empire, which, which is what articulated both our existences in Jersey City, New Jersey, USA. And that later found itself into my dissertation when I went to graduate school.
And so here we are, in the mid-90s, and the comparative literature program at NYU. And what was interesting here was, I was interested because traditional comparative literature was founded to compare literally, European national literatures, right? As if nations had boundaries that were so clear. But what interested me was precisely boundaries that were not so clear, when we're talking about US empire. Right. And so these unclear borders is what fascinated me. And of course, during the 90s was also the postcolonial turn within Comparative Literature and in World Literature. And for me, my allies in the program were Caribbeanist, and Africanist, which I thought was really productive conversations across regions, when we're talking about unclear borders and boundaries. And so that's why even Comparative Literature, traditionally a very European and Eurocentric, as you say, Tak, Eurocentric endeavor, in fact, because traditionally, you learn French and German. But there was this switch over in which other languages had to be known. And I wanted to study, interestingly, the US American Studies, but transnationally. What did it mean to actually have sub-nations? Right, and that certainly speaks to Canada in the way they understand race histories through Indigenous histories, which I think the United States really has - American scholars really have to learn more from, the commonality of settler colonialism as such.
And so this conversation, stemming from Jersey City, where there were immigrants of different sorts, as well as those who actually came under US empire that then later immigrated. Therefore, there are different types of immigrants, right? The histories of immigration and immigrants were all varied within Jersey City. And then the way that borders were erased and redrawn are also quite different. Postcolonial is not postcolonial is not postcolonial. Empires is not empire is not empire. But in fact, those are the things that we had to distinguish and discern when we were in graduate school. And as I said before, the alliances that I formed with Caribbeanists and Africanists is that we might share the same language, but of course, it is different histories that we're talking about, theoretically, can speak the same thing. But of course, the historical and material a relations are quite distinct. And that's something that is very important lesson that I continue to learn in my career as a professor then in this in this industry.
So skip into the 2000s now, teaching at Rutgers. So here, I'm co-directing at Global Asias Initiative. And this speaks to what Tak was saying about the non-relation, or the rather oftentimes fictive relationship between Asian American Studies and Asian Studies, and I would add, Asian Diaspora Studies. And I'll qualify that in a second. So what's interesting is that because the groundwork had been laid, when I was chairing the Department of American cities, I made sure that the interdisciplinary studies like American Studies had very intimate and close relationship to the other smaller interdisciplinary departments, like Africana, like Latino and Caribbean studies, Women's and Gender Studies. Because these are all programs at that point, at least at Rutgers, except Women's Studies, that do not have graduate programs. But also because they're small, and they are this interdisciplinary study, tend to be made invisible, in the larger School of Arts and Sciences.
But the creation of the Global Asias Initiative was actually bringing together folks, younger scholars, particularly, who work in Asian Studies that are working against the Cold War in areas studies model, right? Seeing the way by which Asian Studies is, can be thought of differently as a region, for example, Indian Ocean is a region that we can study within Asian Studies. Or the Americas is actually part of the way you can imagine Asian and Asian Diaspora Studies, and also folks who work in Asian American Studies that see that network transnationally. So there are ways by which we can understand Asia as a region quite differently from the way it was imagined in the Cold War era.
In fact, one of the things I think that among the Asian Americanists and Critical Asian Studies Scholars, is particular terms. Like for example, racism is in fact a category by which we can study like different Asian regions as well as Asian America. Ethno-nationalism that has emerged, in India, in Burma, or Myanmar, rather, and in the United States and the Philippines, right? Anti-immigrant rhetoric, xenophobia, all those things that I think are really important as categories and as points of analyses that we can share across disciplines. And then I think that's one of the things that we're trying to build in something like the Global Asias Initiative here. And it's thanks to student activism, and I want to go back again to the history that Tak shared with us, that it was really through student activism in the last year and a half, that finally it was speeded up through the curricular committee, the arts and science, and that we finally have an Asian American Studies Minor, starting in September. Like, I've been at Rutgers for 12 years, I've been trying to get some traction with the different programs here and there, with courses, etc, etc, but only now because of student activism, as well as the historical circumstances that we face, the massacre, etc, and all the tragedies that had to happen. And global pandemic had to happen, in a sense, alongside student activism that created institutional and transformations - or at least changes, not quite transformations, that is actually further down along the road, I think.
And so, I do want to just, end with the way that we began, in a sense, that student activism was at root, and the push by students and organizing by graduate students as well, to actually keep the institutional changes going and transformations that continue as a struggle, that actually comes from below, rather than from people giving us anything, whether institutions, because I was waiting for 12 years, and of course, they never gave me anything. But it really was through the efforts of students and allies, in the smaller departments, in Africana, in Latino, and Caribbean studies, really individual scholars and their students who've really pushed for these changes. So I just want to stop there. And thank you.
Thank you, Alan, really reminding us that proximity is also knowledge formation. It's also ways of shaping and transforming institutions, right. It's a thing that can affect us. And that activism is also a form of engagement that, you know - no institution gives marginalized people things like easily. We know Asian American Studies, no Asian Canadian Studies, no Women's Studies, none of these spaces exist, unless people demanded it. The state always says no. You have to ask with that in mind. So thank you for reminding us. Lucy?
Lucy Mae San Pablo Burns:
Thank you so much. Thank you, everyone, all this distinguished panel. Really, I want to begin with just expressing how honored I am to be a visitor of this tremendous gathering, organized by the Scholar Strike Canada, entering the gracious invitation of Professor Robert Diaz. I also joined this session from the unceded land of the Gabrielino Tongva peoples, where I work and live. And specifically I'm dialing in and - this is a history I’m just learning - I'm dialing in from a neighborhood in Los Angeles, California, founded on one of the first expropriated Indigenous lands in California. So this is the ground on which I stand and humbly or sit in front of my computer. So thank you again, for this. I'm really honored, and I'm learning a lot, I've been able to attend other sessions. And it's really energizing for me to be here, and learning from all of you. And thank you also Robert for creating this space. And so that's the spirit I come from, forgive me if I don't end up citing anybody along the way, other than our folks here, and just build from a number of your comments.
So first I'll begin with I'm an immigrant. I came here when I was a teenager here as in the US in California. And I say, I've had very few times where I get to introduce myself this way, probably this is the third time I've been able to do this, is that I come from a family of social workers and sex workers. And so I grew up in the Philippines, where I saw people who were taking care of me kind of raise trouble in their workplaces, right. Whether it's the Philippine National Red Cross a chapter in Olongapo City, or the Pope John this 23rd Community Center also in Olongapo City, or in the beer houses, as we called it, on Magsaysay Street, and their agitations in workplace, also at times cost them their jobs, or gave them the silent treatment from the colleagues, or gained them the respect right from their superiors and peers. So that's kind of where, my consciousness come from as a as a person.
And I also want to say that being in that in where I grew up, who I grew up around, I was always surrounded by conversations about the violence of martial law in the Philippines, the Marcos’ martial law, and also the US military occupation, because I lived in a city or that hosted the US Subic Bay Naval Base. That's Olongapo City as I mentioned. And also, these conversations are always amongst ourselves, the ninos and ninas, whoever was around, around the, really the dependency that we had, as people living in Olongapo, the dependency we had on the US military ships coming in. So that dictated the pulse of the economy, and the economy being depressed or better, and that also related to the mood of the folks, right. But there's also again, always a critical tone to the conversation. It wasn't about acceptance, it was always - even if it's in the form of complaint - it was always about this rub, against what we were having to live with. Okay, so I'll that's the the first part of how I wanted to introduce myself to this conversation.
And then I'll just fast forward to, oh, just a quick thing. So when I ended up going to community college, and then transferred to Cal State, so I’ve come out of public schools all the way of my education. And when I was in college, I wasn't necessarily part of what we understand to be very obvious activist activities, protests or anything like that. I had to put myself through college, I had three jobs. So I didn't have much time to even join student groups. And so whoever I was in relationship with, meaning it was really the people I worked with, right. And so if there was some kind of what I would recognize as some more of an activist action that I participated in, it was through my jobs, it had to be through my jobs because I wasn't really doing anything between the jobs and studying.
So but what I want to bring here in terms of when I was in college, to me, I was being politicized in my education. I was taking courses in third world feminism's postcolonial literatures as an undergraduate student, at Sonoma State University. Yeah, so I can't remember - also African American literature and Irish Renaissance, right. And that was, to me, there was a lot of conversations that was happening in terms of post-coloniality. And like Allen said, the empire is not empire is not empire, or it is, but it's in these forms. Suppose coloniality is different in different forms. And for me, the Philippines that was coming into that conversation, but also Ireland.
So then, let me just move on to, to graduate work to where I did my graduate work at UMass Amherst. That's where I really began more actively participating in these activist movements, that is specific to Asian American Studies, in establishing and thinking about Asian American Studies within higher education. And so I want to also say that I came into the English department, UMass Amherst, and was immediately suddenly - because I was interested in post colonial literature and really how to think about the Philippines within the discourse of post colonial theory. As I arrived there, coming from growing up in the Philippines, so it's the minority station - that has a different texture for me. And then coming to California again, the idea of the questions of belonging, again, has a very different texture for me. And then arriving then, here I am, in the East Coast, and I've never been out there, first time I'm living out there. And it's a very different landscape of neighbors and friends and new colleagues and people to meet.
So as Alan was saying, you that that's where I first learned about - not learned, I've learned about them before - but to actually meet Puerto Ricans for the first time, and Cubans, and say, when I would walk into - I started to work at a place calledNew World Theater. Again, I put myself in graduate school, so I had many jobs. So when I started to work at a place called New World Theatre, it's one of the first and perhaps, in its time, the only theater that's dedicated to for, by and about people of color. And I use that phrase specifically to invoke Dr. Du Bois in the way that he defined African American Theatre in the early 20th Century. It was started by this woman director named Roberta Uno. And so it's really through her I got this training of thinking about theater of the people, by the people, near the people. And I bring that into - eventually approached this idea of whatever we understand to be activism. And, I walk into the office again, with this new configuration of kasama, compadres, and I walk in the room, and I say, “Hey, que pasa,” and everyone be like, “Oh, she's definitely from Southern California.” It's like the thing they didn't say, I guess in Puerto Rico, I'm like, What do you, how do you greet each other? So that was that was, again, talking about proximity, and then I would add that, again, I can continuing then my training in post-colonial theory, in sharing the classrooms with international students in particular, from the global south, and then participating with them in new graduate union activist protest, activities at UMass.
And then also, eventually, after about two years that I was there, there was a group of really energized radical undergraduate students who were really interested in Asian American Studies, and started organizing, both in this, like, taking over buildings that was part of it, and really came up even though we didn't do things like - they thought of like one of the activist actions that they wanted to do was like, take out all the books in the library that has anything to do with Asian American lives and experiences. And then stack that like in front of the administration building to show this at that point, the main question is like, what is Asian American studies? Again, to echo what Professor Fujitani had involved, really, we were with this tension and fricative relationship and distant relationship between Asian American and Asian Studies, that was also a question because every time we brought up Asian American Studies, they were interpreting it as Asian Studies. But it was also for me, really, it was important to not right away, like, let me explain to you what Asian American Studies isn't what and how it's not Asian, right? Because there's a version of that, that could sound racist. And also, in its own way, exclusionary.
So those were the things that we were in terms of the organizing around, how do we think about Asian American Studies in a place like Amherst, where it's not Los Angeles, where it's not New York, there's not this critical mass of a community outside the university. But we certainly had enough agitational folks within the university, who really thought of incredibly creative ways to say, look, we don't have to have a critical mass in these terms of numbers. If this is a knowledge formation that is emerging, this is a way that we can think about this. And so we can talk more about kind of those fun things that we did and how we made those connections. The only other thing that I want to invoke in and then I'll close, and then I can talk about these other things that we ended up doing at UCLA where I actually work now.
The other entity that I wanted to invoke here is Professor Sally Habana-Hafner, who's the other mentor that I put next to Roberta Uno. Sally Habana-Hafner was a lecturer at UMass Amherst. And she's Filipina. She was like, I think the only Filipino faculty member in the mid 90s when I was there. And both Roberta and Sally were lecturers, they weren't in tenure track. So Sally actually started a center called the Center for Immigrant Refugee Leadership and Empowerment. And so that was the other kind of training that I had. And that's how I got connected to more closely with the refugee and children of refugee communities that ended up living in what we call the Happy Halloween Valley or Pioneer Valley, that's the other name of it, then that's a colonial name. And then we call it the happy healthy Valley. So through those kind of two different things, again, the Circle, that's the Center, and the New World Theater. That's the the out of campus activities that I was really taking part of. And I had the opportunity and privilege of kind of bringing together the community that we were working with in Circle, and then the methods and the artists were that we were, who we were hosting at New World Theater together in several projects. Yes, I just wanted to I'll leave it there. And hopefully, there's some things that we can pick up from there.
Thanks, Lucy, especially, reminding us that raising trouble can start from the very beginning, in our encounters with it and can actually become what Casey calls an epistemological resource for thinking through like other ways of being in institutions that seem to always depoliticize our trouble. You know, so I think we have to think through what that can look like in Maine. Christine?
Hi. Thank you, everyone, I guess I just want to begin by acknowledging that I am in Vancouver, and on the traditional territories of the Coast Salish peoples. I recently took a position at the University of British Columbia, this past year during COVID. And prior to that I had been at Simon Fraser University for, I don't know, like, maybe a dozen years, maybe more than that, I'm not sure. I wanted to thank the organizers of this event, it's been really inspiring so far. And I know it's been a tremendous effort. And thank you to Robert for organizing this. And for posing this point of entry into this conversation. I'll echo Lucy by saying, it's very rare that we get this opportunity to enter into conversations on these terms. And I wanted to thank everyone on this panel, your stories have already been so inspiring. And I have been really loving hearing the different points of resonance. And it's been so productive already.
I wanted to sort of, I've been thinking about all of the stories that everybody has been sharing, and this question of our intellectual formations, how they intersect with our personal experiences. And it's been really kind of useful moment to kind of think back, and think about, for me, how I've come to Asian Canadian Studies and my own formation as an intellectual, but you know, more so as a person, navigating these spaces.
When I started my PhD, I did a PhD in literature in English at York, which is, of course, where Casey is now. And I had really come in wanting to work on a project that looked at Asian Canadian literature. You know, and it wasn't possible in the department at that time, right? So not because there wasn't work being done, like, artistic work or, or, community work, all of that stuff was obviously going on, but there just weren't the resources. There was nobody in the department to train, there were no faculty members, no courses being taught, the possibility of sitting field exams in something that would make space for that didn't exist. And I also - there wasn't the institutional space, but the terms in which I entered, the institution just didn't feel able, it wouldn't have crossed my mind to make those demands, right.
So I had, growing up in Toronto, I grew up in Rexdale. You know, I think like many of us was a first generation scholar, my story is very much like I think you've seen it on you know, CBC as Kim's convenience. So it was not the kind of positioning where I think I ever felt I had the the intellectual heft, or ability to open up that kind of space. Right. So I came to the field by other means that I think is maybe not that different from the way that Alan and Lucy have been talking about entering it through these kind of fields, that kind of approximate, it kind of came close, and we could use them to give us a language. Right. So, my supervisor was brilliant, she worked on Quebecois feminist theory, you know, my committee was also, someone who worked on African American and Black Canadian Studies, and then someone that worked on radical Quebecois poetry, right. So, they were really great. And I think part of what my training did was teach me to think through analogy, and to think through fields that kind of work alongside. Again, Lucy and Allen had described similar processes.
So I think I'm grateful for this training for so many reasons. Partly because it's really reinforced the importance of looking at surrounding conversations, and thinking comparatively, but at the same time, I also know that this practice of using vectors to approximate a position is not the same as creating a space from which we can then also account for the multiple histories and the thought that produce a field. So that kind of sense of, as Robert was talking about in his opening remarks this morning, the idea of abundance and richness, and how we can think simultaneously, and across disciplines, and really interrogate all of the thinking that we've all been doing. So I think the other thing that I've become conscious of quite recently is that I might have been trying to build a space to think about Asian Canadian concerns by turning to other things like Quebecois feminism and Black Studies. But I don't think that necessarily, the project that I produced put all of those three things in dialogue. So I think that’s a very different kind of a project.
So when I think about my own training, in some ways, it's maybe not that different from a lot of graduate students that continue to be trained in Canada, the ways in which we operate. I think there is no tradition of Ethnic Studies departments in Canada. You know, we do have things like, Gender Studies departments, such as the Women and Gender Studies Institute at U ofT that Robert’s part of, at UBC we have a Gender, Race and Social Justice Department, and these are interdisciplinary spaces that in some ways are maybe comparable to the kind of space that Ethnic Studies opens up in the US in some senses. You know, there are newer programs that we started, like, Global Asias at SFU is very new. There's an Asian Canadian, Asian Migration program, that's an undergraduate one. And both of them actually are undergraduate minor programs right now at UBC. But I think, for the most part, those of us that are working in Asian Canadian Studies tend to work in discipline-based departments, right? So English, History, Sociology, Geography, Political Science, that kind of space. And so if I think about Literature, and I know English is maybe in some ways, like, one of the most, if not the most conservative department - because we're organized primarily in fields that are nation-based or period-based, for something like Asian Canadian to be legible, that has always meant that we've had to yoke it to a more recognizable field, right? So my own training was in Canadian literature and literary theory, kind of, again, vectors. So Asian Canadian gets positioned on the side of Canadian literature, or students that I train, then read alongside Asian American and US literature, for example, or, postcolonial literatures. Which produces scholars that are brilliant and creative and all of these things, but it makes it still impossible in many ways to center Asian Canadian Studies. And as we all know, the politics and discipline-based departments are very different from those, say Ethnic Studies politics, right.
So I think those are all things. I think about the universities, that popped up post-60s, I think a lot of us then that moved through those spaces became familiar with politics that looked like a Marxist, leftist labor-oriented politics, that was one tenor of that, which tended, to be quite masculine, or kind of feminist politics that didn't center BIPOC bodies. So, again, that becomes important to kind of hold on to, the way that the intellectual formations and the the kinds of politics that we're become familiarized with. In some ways, it's not that different from when we heard in the last session, Winnie and Deena and, and Min Sook talking about unions and labor politics, too, and the kind of a pervasive whiteness. So not just a problem for us in post secondary, but something in the larger climate. So all of this becomes important, because it really emphasizes the importance of a space like this, how we really need these kinds of sustained spaces, to have conversations with, to think through the politics of the field, the importance of thinking about the complexities of Asian racializations in Canada. but also as part of a larger formation that also includes the US, and can be thought transnationally, through relations to various Asias, as well as different intellectual formations too, like, Asian Studies as well. So all of those histories are incredibly important.
And so if we think about the space that we need to remain energized, the kind of space to constantly critique what we're doing and where we're going, that becomes really important. And I guess maybe where I’ll end is the other thing I've been thinking about is, I know Robert flagged earlier, the idea of kind of comparative work, and Comparative Racial Studies. And I think those conversations are so important, and I think, have been so generative for all of us in so many different ways, but one of the things I've also been thinking a lot about is how this field, these concerns that we bring forward about thinking through the perspective of Asians, and where that positions us within these larger conversations about decolonization. Like how we might think about the structure in which we think those through, how do we kind of have a comparative conversation that also thinks about, not just the big, egregious moments of racism that we've been thinking about lately? I think often in Asian Canadian Studies, when we go back and we narrate the field, it's through the larger things like the Chinese Canadian Head Tax, the Japanese Canadian internment, the Komagata Maru. And so we look for these spectacular moments. And I know a lot of people have been talking about how for a lot of us, what happened in Atlanta became that tangible moment, that we could say, like this is our entry point into this conversation.
But I think what we've all been also thinking about is how there are so many different pathways or different forms of migration, different kinds of structural inequities, different structural forms of racism, that doesn't necessarily fit into the way that we've been conditioned to think about what it means to be in solidarity or conversation or coalition with other things. So I think it's such a complicated and important conversation to have. But I think we also need to really be conscious of how we enter into it and what we bring with us. And what that that also allows us to see, when we look laterally to. Maybe I'll just pause here and hand it over to Robert.
Thanks, everyone. We’ll have a robust conversation, I invite people to have comments and postings on the YouTube site. So that'll be what I’ll be looking at. I just want to kind of say, for folks who might be tuning in and thinking, “This is not what I expect of a conversation on institutions!” That was the point. You know, I think in many ways, when you teach, when you read when you study in institutions, institutions actually dictate who we are. They dictate who we become, they dictate as to the metrics that they use to define this. And so when a panel of folks say, this is such a unique opportunity that I'm able to talk about myself in these ways, maybe we have to ask, why? Why are we only talking about ourselves this way?
We began this day by talking about and thinking about how activism and social movements begin with trust and collectivity, and thinking through being with each other in ways that are messy and difficult. But that might start to the point of departure that might be vulnerable, that might start with the kind of sharing of what you would like, and maybe someone else saying to you, that's not enough? And so those things are personal, I'm really inspired by Casey's work epistemological resources, and how we think and teach.
I'll just, ever gonna share it, I just kind of maybe will share something of my own really quickly. You know, I moved to the states when I was 17. I was an undocumented immigrant. And so I couldn't really go to university, I didn't realize that that was going to limit me for a lot of things. But at that time, California passed a law that you can go to university pay resident tuition, even if you're undocumented as long as you're not 21. And I wasn't, and, I went to UC Riverside, no other school accepted me, I was actually waitlisted at UC Riverside. And at that time, UC Riverside was a very small school of mostly a lot of Chicano students who are first generation, a lot of Black students, a lot of people of color,. And there's also fights against affirmative action then, really making sure that affirmative action was established and stabilized.
Anyway, so I wasn't really politically aware of any of these issues or concerns. But then I took a class with Tiffany Lopez in the English department at UC Riverside. And I read a piece by Luis Alfaro, Chicano writer who's living in LA, who wrote, who has the line, like, “Who are my hero, who am I saying,” and I remember reading this as an undergrad and thinking, really blown away by his work and also Cherrie Moraga’s work in Tiffany Lopez's class, and started realizing that my entry point to being an anyone who thinks about race, even thinking about my Filipinoness was through the, the eyes of experiences of a Latina, queer person living through LA, talking about himself as a child. And I think that then made me have to learn about the histories of LA, learn about the history of the community that migrated there.
I switched them from being a biomedical major, because I thought, okay, I'm gonna have to graduate when you want to try to get a job and not be deported. But then that informs every single time I think about race, right? Like when I hear the word anti-Asian racism, I refuse to think about it as an ethno-nationalist category that just defines Asia, to the people who are here who are Asian, right? I refuse to think about it in these ways, because I have to think about it the way that Cherrie Moraga has thought about it, like race, like through queerness, through embodiment, through domesticity, through these other contexts of thinking about it, and teaching about it, and being in that space and understanding it. And that informs how I become my mentor, that informs how I become someone in the institution. And that informs actually moments of refusal in an institution that I have now been fortunate to have and embody as a tenured faculty.
And so I just share that because I think for many times, one of the things I've kept seeing around like Asian Canadian activism, but also studies, is that there's no failure of will, that is alive, if you look at the activism that we're seeing across the country, from these fierce women who are mostly youth, today, there's no failure of will there and there is no failure of imagination. But I think what we are failing at sometimes is realizing that the imaginations can look so many different ways, and that we need models for understanding what those are. And so as teachers, we might need to model particular kinds of entry points, we might have to model particular kinds of ways of being in institutions, but also make us accountable to the histories we have.
Lucy, thank you for invoking sex workers and social workers in your work, and your life and your like, like discussion. Because sometimes we didn't realize, that is actually at the center of what happened in Atlanta, issues of sexuality, issues of gender and class, but we seem to be so disconnected when we start studying these things. So then sometimes you have to like, humanize it in ways. And so thank you, everyone, for sharing, for Tak’s notion of Eurocentrism. But also really, I think differently racialized in the context of your own experiences within someone who navigates Area Studies, and Asian Studies. From Allen's thinking about Jersey City, but also notions of proximity, and also really centering activism as something that we need, this is reciprocal, too. I am a professor and institution but I'm not alone. Our distance from each other does not equal debility. It doesn't always have to. Casey, for your really thinking through sense and sound, because that's actually about intimacy. And understanding that knowledge in the classroom space and institutions could be types of resistance actually, that might not be expected by the institution itself.
For Lucy, for talk about raising trouble. I would love to have more trouble, I hope. For Christine, for thinking through, really thinking about even the creative space. But also that's a call for resources for what those spaces might look like. And they cannot be siloed within noncomparative ways of thinking about race. I refuse. That that's not going to be effective in thinking through what we have to reimagine as the institution’s refusal for us to build the program, if it's not only centering us, maybe we don't have to center us only. We have to think about others alongside that, too.
And so with that, I guess I wanted to ask the audience, if there's any questions, any comments, any things that you'd - Because I do think that, they're, I think part of this is a segue into thinking about method - So the three things I was thinking about is like method, stories and histories that you focus on in your teaching, but also, in terms of administrative work. I think part of my invitation for these folks is also to think they're all coming from different spaces in the institution, from administration to teaching to a new faculty member writing institution, styles and in approaches to engaging with institutions. And the reason why with and without matters in institutions, because part of what actually all of the stories were today, some of them exist, the kinds of energies that they echo, the kinds of trouble that they are drawing on, sometimes they didn't happen within the institution, and so I think that's what we have to remind ourselves of, too.
We have a question. Oh, I think it's just - Oh, but we do have a question. Oh, it was more comment. But I actually think it might be a good segue. So, many of you have talked about the global south postcolonial empire in your work. But now, given the personal entry point that you've offered, are there ways that this affected your method for teaching, your method for community organizing, both as a teacher but also before that, your method for engaging with institutions to demand particular metrics in how they like, ask of us to prove ourselves, like as actually needing to have validity or legibility? Lucy you kind of ended up with more like a continuation, possibly. So even the kinds of forms that are engaged with the institution, take even as graduate students, undergraduate professors, because we assume, but we always have to speak the discourse of the institution to engage with them. But there are many ways we can think about methods of engaging with each other and in this institution. So I guess that's my first opening question. If anyone would like to pick it up.
Lucy Mae San Pablo Burns:
Is it okay? Can I just, I'll just give one little bit of example of methods and tactics. So and I'm gonna invoke now this job that I have at UCLA, as an Associate Professor and Asian Studies Department. A couple of years ago, UCLA was celebrating its 100 years of its Centennial celebration, and they have their campaign, different ways in which the institution is celebrating itself. So what I chose to do is to teach this credit course, and I titled it “100 Years of Protest at UCLA”. And in that class, I had students look at research and the history of the institution, but from that point of view of protest acts, and creative agitations, the students’ events for 100 years. So you're looking at in the early 1920s, histories of students agitating around and being identified as communists, and around the war, so it's that history.
So, that's one of the ways I bring into - like how we can, as much as we have to negotiate, these kinds of institutional mandates. Yeah, Casey is doing amazing things and providing these methods. And we don't know how that's what's going to come out of that, right? I mean, that's the most exciting thing, we can bring in these tools, and then let what can happen. And that's the most exciting part. And so as part of that project as well, I was working on this site specific performance with a former student who's a musical artist named Tiffany lydell, who is a mixed race, Cambodian American. And we created a piece called Refugee Reenactment. And we staged this musical performance piece in this area of UCLA where that recalls this anti-war protest, that was the largest college protest at the time, in the history of that particular period. And that actually happened at UCLA. And reenactment is, it's not simply doing the same thing. It's repetition, with a difference, right? So it's recalling histories within a but also then opening the space, how can we be how we can live with if we think about history, as acts or ideas that can shape the course of the future? And so I wanted to think about a class like that, if this is the history to invoke, next to recalling all the amazing, like Nobel Peace Prize winners that come out of UCLA, what you know, these are, kind of the kinds of histories that can live together and rub up against each other, and then let's create a space for the students to do something with that.
Thank you, Lucy, ‘cause you're also giving us a sense of, trust in our students, when we teach them these kinds of materials, they have agency of how they use it. We have to give them the possibility of the resources and the tools. I think that sometimes we might predetermine even what they're capable of. And I think what you're doing about modeling these kinds of performances on campus, but also it's about the performance, a history-making, a necessary rethinking, in particular ways. Anyone else wanted to answer that question?
Allan Punzalan Issac:
I just wanted to echo what you were saying. Just even in spaces where there’s a large immigrant community, like New Jersey. And you're absolutely right, Robert, to really trust in the students to actually give them the language, as you say, Lucy, language or tools, and they really can take it back home, and actually make it really material. Even one simple assignment that I just gave this particular semester, because we were all on zoom, it was my Intro to American American Studies 101. And the last one basically was, ask three people what America means. In your community, by telephone, by zoom, or by talking. One of them has to be not a family member or something like that. And because folks live in such a range of communities really, and the way that they entered America itself, whether as international students, whether as first generation, whether as African American, Afro Caribbean, whether as Indigenous, whatever it is, their formation is all unique, and the fact that they can actually bring that language back home is very satisfying to them, as well as the way that, oh, this language, and the way we teach them actually can be wielded quite differently, in like, 80 different ways. You know, if you had 80 students, that is, precisely because they all come from different communities, and people think that they actually can't use it, they think they have to do fancy language, right? That because they are now in college, and, of course, most of them are first generation. One third are first generation college students, one half do not identify as white, whatever white might mean to them, and so therefore I think it's just really satisfying for them and for you, and as a community to actually wield the same language, but you know, what comes out at the end are so entirely different and diverse. And that's where abundance comes in, as you were saying, and this is how thick our community is because of the language that we actually can give them in one sense, and actually, it's reciprocal, right? It's not about giving, but they also return that.
Thank you, Alan. Any comments because I do have a question- Oh, there's multiple questions. So I think I will kind of combine questions. First, so Eleanor's question is about Critical Race Studies. What would it look like in the context of what you think about, in your entry points in your institutions? But I also think there's a question around proximity, intimacy, tendencies to think about oppression in flattening ways. And so then, maybe Allen, Christine, Lucy, Tak, if you could speak, and Casey, to thinking through because, Tak you kind of began us with the disciplinarity, this mess of things. So Asian Canadian Studies, Asian American Studies, Global Asias, and Asian Studies. How might in your work, or even in this conversation, think are there strategies for us to mess up these ways - how can we have cross conversation in ways that might be useful in the future? And how I would attempt these questions of critical race studies or questions of intimacy, proximity analogy. That's the only methods we're thinking through, crossing conversations, right? If anyone, in your work, because this is a unique opportunity, actually, all within different spaces.
Well, thank you very much, I feel a little bit in the minority in the sense that I really can't claim to be a real activist in the sense of really getting out into the community, particularly in Canada, where I have to confess, I'm still trying to feel out where my position really is in the community, as well as within the university. I felt more comfortable having lived in California so long, with Ethnic Studies formation there, and also the critique of black white binary, where we belong as Asians in this discussion about race. So I'm defining my way into the communities around Toronto these days. So I don't want to pretend that I do a lot there.
But in terms of intellectual work, if you can call that also a type of activism, I've tried for a long time to think through how the discipline of history itself should change. But now, I'm feeling like, I'm too old, history’s too big, it’s not going to change in my lifetime, and I can only talk about it, what would be a good thing to do. And I really think that in order to decolonize knowledge production within the university, and to build these intimacies, that we have to change the rubrics by which we study history itself, because history, as you know, is very, basically a 19th century invention, which became a handmaiden of nationalism. So we're very much bound by the nation-state formation. So in many other or some other disciplines, people move from one area to the other, because the method seems to be more important than the region. And there's a problem with that as well. But in history it's kind of unheard of, for someone like me to be and work on Japanese history, and do the archival work, and then go to the US and do the archival work in Asian American. It's kind of beginning now, but it was a very rare thing when I started to do that. And it was very challenging.
So I think we really need to change these rubrics by which we understand our own positions. And, different ways of doing that, but one, decolonising - for example, if you're a specialist in US History, you should be required to study the South as well as the Americas in general, all of it rather than just confine yourself to North America and know nothing about Latin America. Or if you're a Europeanist you should be required to study about Africa in the Middle East. That should be one rubric. Not this artificial rubric that we create from Europe, or - and if you're an Asianist you should be required to study Southeast Asia and the colonized world in addition to like me, who studies Japanese history.
So one of the things that I felt in terms of these proximities that has been really good is, someone else asked me, what is the best thing happening in Japanese studies these days. And my response was, it's demise! We need to wrap it up first. And one of the best things that has actually happened in a more positive way, is actually Korean studies. Because people in Japanese studies have been called out on their lack of attention to Japanese colonialism. When I was a graduate student, for example, we didn't, we didn't we know nothing about Korea. And we weren't required to. So it's much later that I had to self-teach and depend upon friends and colleagues in order to do that.
So that's part of the proximity-making on the one hand, and then I don't want to go much into this, but the other that I've been very much involved in, and I know so many of you are doing so much better at this, but in the Asian-Black relation, that there's been a lot of good work these days, and then including Asian, Black, Indigenous and others, that kind of cross border in the sense, work is really important. So, for the first time, there's an initiative in Michigan, called Japanese Studies and Anti-Racist Pedagogy, which is led by a Black scholar of Medieval Japanese Literature. I mean, this is something really novel and innovative and interesting. And, and not just to be Black, but actually to use Black feminist theory in studying pre-modern Heian Period literature in Japan. And then I'm also working with another scholar, one of the real authorities on Du Bois, Nahum Chandler, was at UCI, actually, who's really turned his attention Du Bois in Asia. And these kinds of things, where we're crossing over in unexpected ways, is part of what I wish that we could do more of, and then that I try to do in my own teaching.
But again, the problem with Eurocentrism, as I am the only person in the History Department of 80, who actually teaches Japanese history, I have to do some of that, and I don't want to abandon that side of my work as well, because it's so important to keep up the transnational. And to make us not myopic in terms of only our national formation or National Studies. I mean, National Studies is a real problem. And we need to break out of it. And that's part of the mission for us, who are actually more solidly in Asian Studies than perhaps in North American Studies. So I could say more, but I'll stop there.
Thank you Tak. Is there any follow up? We have like a few more minutes, I just kind of wanted to let you know, because this is a really important question and thought, really briefly, if anyone just wanted to address it, how can you speak about your strategies for actually supporting students who are experiencing anti-Asian racism? You know, because I think that this might be you know, especially for students, as we wrap up, this might be important, and I'll just say some final words. But yes, if anyone, in your experience, strategies, yeah, Casey.
Maybe I can bring up Lucy's invocation of configurations of kasamas, these circles of support. And Robert, I gesture to you, because I was your student, you were my PhD supervisor, one of my PhD supervisors, and you very much taught me the importance of mentorship. And, in the face of anti-Asian racism, or Asian racism, these circles of support and mentorship are so important. And so I think, and recognizing how much time we have left, just carving space for allowing students to pool racial grief in ways that are productive and meaningful to them is is such an important, initiative that we sometimes overlook, and whether that be in our classroom through discussion, very careful discussion, or through written assignments, just providing an outlet for them to work through difficult feelings in the ways that they best see fit, is of great importance.
Thank you, Casey. And on that note, I just want to say, thank you for that question. In the wrap up, I want to just say also that we all came from personal experiences, and so they're not universalist, right? I just want to say that, we're also coming from institutions of privilege, right? that many people who might be watching this today might not have positions that are secure, they might be adjunct, they might be people who are not even offered the opportunity to be in front of a classroom space. And so teaching is actually has to be expanded in the ways we think about it.
And so in invoking all these other communities that are not in the room or not virtually today, but are actually around us in our experiences, I want us to remember that that is also a practice of learning and practice of teaching those histories and, and I'm hoping that we'll continue this. And because that's a tense and messy process, but it's a good one to encounter and experience.
And that note, I want to just invite people tomorrow to the Scholar Strike website for multiple events that are happening tomorrow. I won't be able to read all of the participants, but we are very deeply honored to have folks who are going to speak. So the panel at 12:30 to 2pm is “My Anger is a Gift”, sex workers’ rights, strategies, and knowledge. At 2:30pm Eastern Time, “Artists In Dialogue: Past Present Futures,” and at 4:30 to 6pm, “Creating Otherwise Worlds: Relations, Abolition And Freedom.” And on that note, I'd like to thank my co panelists and coteaching members for sharing your stories. They're not the only stories that are out there that we can think through, but it's a beginning as a point of departure. So thank you everyone, and I hope you have a good rest of the day.
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